You have to get some work done. You sit at your desk comfortably, you prepared some snacks and you’re really ready to start working.
But all of a sudden your mind starts telling you stories…
“You know what? Maybe I’m gonna take a nap, it’s regenerating for my skin and body, maybe I’ll be ready to start working after that.”
“This work is too hard, I’m gonna do it when I have more time. Maybe tomorrow, or next week…”
“I need to answer this email first, or make this call, or eat some more pizza
(ok, maybe this is just me)”
I don’t even need to tell what this is: procrastination.
Procrastination is such a huge theme and it’s also my favourite one.
I’m really fascinated by how our minds work sometimes. I remember this quote by Marianne Williamson – a great woman, btw – that says:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
And I really identify myself in what she says. I know that I’m procrastinating when I hear in my head this kind of background voice that says:
You can’t do it right now. It’s too hard for you. You’re not ready, your future self will do it.
But something really important I figured out with time is that done is better than perfect and that sometimes just starting is the hardest task. Our minds tend to have this mental resistance to start, and it can be tough to overcome. That’s why we procrastinate.
Having said that, today we’re gonna talk about how to stop procrastinating and get some work done.
Actually, I was about to procrastinate on a procrastination blog post. How ironic?
1. DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT
Want it or not, your mind will always try to procrastinate. It’s in its nature, it’s its way to protect you from what it felt like “dangerous”, such as the pressure of failure. That’s why you need to tell yourself you don’t want to be perfect. You don’t need the perfect moment, you don’t need the perfect start, you don’t need to do anything in the perfect way because you’re not gonna do it anyway.
Think of how many time you started doing something new and you did it perfectly without a single mistake. Here you are! Zero.
And that’s perfectly fine, because your mistakes always teach you something, and make the rest easier. And remember that almost everything can be changed and improved over time.
All your mind wants is to enjoy itself. Accept it. You will never feel ready to work. Actually, the more you avoid it, the harder it will look. Sometimes I procrastinate on a task my whole day, and when I finally end up doing it I find it easier than I thought it would have been.
2. WRITE DOWN YOUR DISTRACTIONS
I can’t really tell you how much this one thing alone saved me tons and tons of time procrastinating.
Like we already said, your mind starts telling you things and it won’t stop, until you make it stop.
Simply write those things done. Seriously, everything that comes to your mind.
All of a sudden you remember you had to make that call – it’s just your mind playing mind tricks with you! Or you have to answer that email. In 90% of cases, it can wait.
So just write it down and forget about it. You’re gonna do it later, eventually. It’s no big deal!
3. TEMPTATION BUNDLING
Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, proved in a search that a simple way to stop procrastination is to combine the dreaded task with something that is instantly gratifying.
Something like watching Netflix while you are working out, or listening to that great podcast while folding your laundry, or washing the dishes – or doing any other boring task.
If you’re looking for podcasts to listen to here are some ideas.
This technique – that Milkman calls temptation bundling – allows you
“to get the short-term benefits of indulging and the long-term benefits that result from practising good habits consistently.”
4. MAKE LISTS
This will not only help you avoid procrastination but will also make you more productive in general.
But your schedule needs to be smart in order to be effective.
So don’t just write down a looong list of everything you need to accomplish today.
Instead, write an exact time interval for every task you’re gonna take. And always keep in mind the worst scenarios. We tend to be overly optimistic when we compile our to-do lists, but life happens!
Wash the dishes 12:00 – 12:30
Also, if it’s something you often tend to procrastinate on, try to add as many details as possible for it or break down the exact steps you’re gonna be taking.
For example, let’s say you need to write an essay for your English class. Your to-do list should look a lot like this:
- Research – specify the number of resources you’re gonna be needing. Include both general and specific topic. E.g Maximum 7 different resources, 3 general and 4 specific.
- Write down the first sentence – this usually helps me overcome the writer’s block. Instead of waiting for the “perfect non-existent sentence” to come to mind, I simply write down a phrase. Even if it’s complete nonsense, even if I know I will never really let that stay in my essay or blog post – or whatever.
- Brainstorming – write down at least 5/6 ideas or phrases.
- Start from the middle – this is an alternative if you can’t find an appropriate introduction to the topic of your essay.
And so on.
The real point here is: the more specific you are, the less time your brain is gonna spend wondering where you should start – and the less time you’ll spend procrastinating. So just give your mind some directions before jumping all in!
5. SET A POMODORO TIMER
You’ve probably heard of this before. The Pomodoro technique is a very well-known technique to avoid procrastination. It consists of creating periods of intense focus, by working on a task for 25 minutes and taking a 5 minutes break.
This is how a step-by-step Pomodoro session should be like:
- choose an individual task you really need to accomplish
- Set a 25 minutes timer
- After 25 minutes, take a 5 minutes break
- Keep doing this for 4 sessions in total, then take a longer break of 20 minutes
- Repeat until necessary.
This technique ends up being really effective because everybody can focus on 25 minutes. And it also helps you overcome that mental resistance, which is a very common characteristic of procrastination.
The focus is a muscle, and with time you’ll be able to focus for longer than 25 minutes. This will eventually help you figure out the time slice that works best for you.
It could be 50/10 with 50 minutes of work and a 10 minutes break, or even more. Or less. It can also depend on the task, but remember to always take breaks. Those are what really helps you stay focused in the long term.
Best apps for your Pomodoro sessions:
Forest – you can set whatever time you want, and it will start planting a tree. Whenever you get out of the app and start checking your social media, for example, the tree will start dying! I find it really motivating!
There are actually a ton more apps like these ones, and you could also just use the timer on your phone. So, no excuses!
6. TAKE PAUSES
Repeat this after me
“Breaks are as important as the work itself”.
We tend to forget about this when we enter our workflow, but breaks help you keep the focus high. So keep them short but frequent!
You’ll have time to figure out yourself what works best for you.
They can also depend on the type of task you’re trying to accomplish. For example, creative work might require longer work sessions because you need to think, while more automatic tasks might require shorter sessions.
Whatever task you’re doing, still take regular breaks for it.
7. FOCUS MUSIC
Ok, this one works like crazy for me!
There are actually some studies that prove that listening to classical music or some other kind of “Focus music” actually helps you get more focused.
But I think that the real reason it works for me it’s that my mind started to associate it with an intensely focused state of mind – and it behaves accordingly!
In other words, whenever I listen to classical music my brain starts concentrating.
It’s something that comes with time, but I must say it’s very useful to focus on command!
I hope these pieces of advice work as good for you as they do for me!
And remember that whatever you do, the more time you take procrastinating, the harder it will get. You will start telling yourself
“Ok, I’m gonna do this in 5 minutes.”
Then two hours have passed and you put it off for tomorrow, or next week.
So just start working, because nothing has to be perfect!
Done is better than perfect, remember?
What are your favourite ways to stop procrastinating? What works best for you?